More than a week after the Democratic primary election for Baltimore County executive, there is still no winner — but officials say there could be a victor by Friday evening.
The last votes in the contest to be counted — about 1,300 provisional ballots cast by Democrats and 900 absentee ballots from both parties — are to be tallied Friday.
The three-candidate race hangs in the balance. After early voting, election day and the first round of an absentee canvass, former state Del. Johnny Olszewski Jr. holds a 42-vote lead over state Sen Jim Brochin. County Councilwoman Vicki Almond is third, 1,059 votes behind Olszewski.
The winner of the Democratic primary will face Republican nominee Al Redmer Jr., who defeated Del. Patrick L. McDonough in the GOP primary last week.
The Democratic provisional ballots are to be counted starting at 3 p.m. Friday.
County elections director Katie Brown told the campaigns Thursday that staff has recommended rejecting some Democratic provisional ballots.
Ballots can be rejected because they were cast by someone who was not registered to vote, who voted on the wrong party’s ballot, who has already voted by absentee or early ballot, or who did not sign a provisional ballot application.
Elections officials are recommending that about 1,300 provisional ballots from Democrats be accepted.
Typically, staff makes recommendations and the votes are tallied without much fanfare. But the intense interest from the campaigns led to an unusual setup Thursday afternoon.
Representatives from each campaign sat at a long table in the Hunt Valley elections office as Brown explained the process. Plastic tablecloths were hung across the room’s windows so observers — including reporters and other campaign staff — would be blocked from seeing private voter data shown on a screen for the campaign representatives to review.
“We’re really making an effort to make this a transparent process, to give as much openness and inclusiveness and participation by everyone interested, everyone who has a stake in this,” said Andrew Bailey, attorney for the county elections board.
In evaluating the ballots, elections officials referred to the state elections database and a Motor Vehicle Administration database in reviewing provisional ballots. State officials announced shortly before the primary that the information of tens of thousands of Marylanders who made updates to their voter registration through the Motor Vehicle Administration was not sent on to elections officials. Those Marylanders were directed to cast provisional ballots.
Officials said a small number of Baltimore County voters were affected by the glitch.
None of the Democratic candidates was present as their teams were briefed by elections officials on how the provisional ballots were evaluated. But their campaign representatives said they were satisfied with how the provisional ballots were handled.
“Going into the counts tomorrow, after this review, I have 1,000 percent confidence that they are going to count every vote,” said Tucker Cavanagh, campaign manager for Olszewski.
Tim Hodge, an attorney for Brochin’s campaign, said he had wanted elections officials to count the provisional ballots Thursday afternoon. He said the Olszewski team slowed the process by insisting that elections officials explain their rationale for accepting or rejecting ballots.
“We look forward to the completion of the canvass process tomorrow and the announcement of a winner,” Hodge said.
Cavanagh said there was no delay.
“We’ve been saying from the beginning that every vote needs to count, and we’ve got to make sure that happens, so we emphasize accuracy over expediency,” he said. “And it looks like we’re now going to finish on schedule, so there was no change.”
Almond has the most ground to make up, but her campaign was optimistic.
“We are confident in the integrity of the Board of Elections’ process,” campaign manager Mandee Heinl said in a statement. “As we head into final tallies, we are humbled by the support we’ve received for a favorable outcome.”
The campaigns are waiting to see not only who emerges on top, but how close the margin is. If less than 0.1 percent of votes separates the winner from the losing candidates, the state would pay for the cost of a potential recount. If the margin is larger, a candidate may petition for a recount, but would have to pay for it.
Nearly 83,000 Democratic votes have been counted, which would make the 0.1 percent figure about 83 votes or fewer.
The Olszewski campaign sent a fundraising email to supporters Thursday.
“We have a team on site at the Board of Elections today observing — and protecting — the integrity of the election process,” Olszewski wrote in the solicitation.
Elections judges started Thursday with Republican provisional ballots. They accepted 217 Republican provisional ballots in full and 86 in part — meaning votes for some races were counted, but not others.
For example, some voters’ ballots for countywide and statewide races were counted, but their votes for local offices were not counted if they voted in the wrong district.
The 1,300 Democratic provisional ballots to be counted Friday will also be accepted in full or in part.
Even though the Republican votes were tallied, the results will not be made public until all of the Democratic provisional ballots are counted.
The next county executive will succeed Don Mohler, who was appointed to the job in May following the death of Kevin Kamenetz.